Published on November 11th, 2014 | by Ian Goodwillie2
Concert Review: The Headstones (Saskatoon)
The Headstones roll through the prairies and Ian Goodwillie takes the opportunity, even on a Monday night, to see one of his bucket list bands.
Most people have a band on their bucket list they have to see play live, a band they’ve loved for a long time yet somehow manage to miss every chance to see them perform. For me, that band is the Headstones. Or, to be more precise, now it was the Headstones.
As with most moments of self-discovery, my first experience with the Headstones came during my tenure at university in the late 1990s. I had a few friends that influenced my musical leanings. One got me into jazz, funk, and soul. Another fostered my love of hip hop, rap, and R & B. And then there’s the one who introduced me to the Headstones album ‘Picture of Health’ after a long night of drinking in a dorm room.
Again, it was university.
If you’ve never heard ‘Picture of Health,’ it’s the best album the Headstones ever put out. Don’t get me wrong; they’ve had some great music since but ‘Picture of Health’ is where it’s at for me. It’s raw and intense but each song is still brilliantly written and performed. It isn’t the overproduced music Nickelback creates, not that there isn’t a place or fan base for that. The entire album is a perfect balance between punk and rock. And just over 20 years after that album was released I watched them perform it live for the first time. Well, it was the first time I watched them performed live. They’ve performed live many, many times, which makes it ridiculous that I haven’t seen them before.
It always happened that wherever I was living, from Saskatoon to Vancouver and a few places in between, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was out of town when they were in town or had another event on the same evening. And then the band broke up. Bands go ‘on hiatus’ all the time and they eventually get back together, like a comic book superhero who dies and is back alive just in time to promote the new movie. But still, in the back of your mind, you wonder what happens if this is the time a band breakup sticks? Lead singer Hugh Dillon has had a great acting career that flourished during their hiatus from 2003 to 2011. It was conceivable that his time fronting the Headstones was done. But fortunately for me they did come back, finally announcing a tour stop in Saskatoon.
I walked in the doors, wondering if this was going to be another reunited band that had lost a step. Their recent album was a solid Headstones release but the last of the albums before their break had taken more of a pop turn than expected from the punk influenced rock band.
What walked on stage was the Headstones, proper and true. They were raw. They were intense. They were brilliant. And for a Monday night in Saskatoon, they had a damn big crowd. You know if a group of people are out for a concert on a Monday night, they are into the band. The bulk of the show came from ‘Picture of Health’ with a smattering of songs from other albums and a couple from the most recent one. They busted out their covers of ‘Tweeter & the Monkey Man’ and ABBA’s ‘SOS,’ both epically performed.
The show was exactly what I expected from the Headstones. Hugh Dillon flew around the stage like a man possessed, splitting his time between screaming lyrics from the audience and whipping gear around the stage.
You often wonder if your favorite band will lose its edge as its members age. Will their passion fade or their lyrics mellow out? I never saw the Headstones perform live before their breakup in 2003 so I have no comparison point to go from. But I was at the show with people who have seen them perform several times and they assured me the Headstones hadn’t lost a step, that they were as furious, manic, and intense as always. I couldn’t argue the point. After years of listening to their music, I had always pictured a Headstones concert a certain way. This was every imagined show come to life.
I was in heaven, especially when they closed out their encore with ‘Cemetery.’ Perfect.
The Headstones are what they are. They leave everything on stage at the show and you’re either into it or you’re not. And if you’re not, I’m sure Nickelback will be by in a few moments to lip sync some perfectly produced audio for you. But if you want music that touches a nerve, make sure you hit a Headstones show.